The ruddy, blood-soaked light of the setting sun cascaded through the bars of the cargo hold’s latticework hatch, and Daenerys screamed and strained against the chains. Men were dying above her on the ship, that she could tell by the horrible, curdling shrieks and by the crimson drops that splashed upon her face and speckled the blue and gold of her dress, and she raged at being trapped in the shadows of the hold.
She continued to scream long after her throat had gone raw from the strain of it, and long after she knew that whoever was battling for her freedom must have heard her. The chains rattled and the pillar she was bound to vibrated from the force of her anger as she twisted and writhed until her ankles and wrists and neck were raw and, likely, bloody beneath the collar and manacles.
And still she screamed.
The room swayed with the motion of the waves and the wine in her stomach, but she could feel the intoxication burning away in a red blaze as the dragon inside her, no, she was the dragon, fought against its bindings. The wooden beams seemed to pulse and shift, and even when the ocean began to stream into the hold, she knew no fear, for the dragon would not die this way, helpless and trapped. Whoever, or whatever, was killing her enemies, called to her, and she could feel the desperate pull of her soul towards the light.
It’s Jon … I can feel it.
Her screams became roars when the first drops of cold sea water splashed against her legs.
Daenerys roared for blood, roared for freedom, roared for life, roared for fire … and above her, men continued to die. She only paused her cries of anger for a moment when, inexplicably, flames began to lick the hatch above. The cold water pouring into the hold to slide across the wooden floors, and the fire spreading along the roof of her prison, only spurred her to greater efforts.
Her vocal cords would fray and snap from the strain soon, she knew, but she continued to howl.
A man fell across the hatch above and began to burn, his dusky flesh crackling in the heat. He lay oddly, and when another man, also bleeding, sprawled next to him and knocked him apart, Daenerys saw that the first man had been cut in two.
Rivulets of sea water had begun to well out of the waterlogged beams of the hold, the first warning sign that the ship’s ability to weather whatever damage it had sustained had been exceeded, before she heard the scrabble of frantic footsteps behind her. She tried to twist to see who it might be, her fiery heart leaping in her chest with hope, but as had been the case since she’d awakened on the ship, the chains held her still.
Xaro Xhoan Daxos scrambled into view, his legs slipping out from under him for a moment when his bare feet struck the water. She dimly recalled that he had been a seaman in his youth, which explained how, despite his corpulence, he regained his feet so quickly. As he rose, his arm brushed against the mirror, knocking it wildly askew to titter on its wooden legs. For a moment, Daenerys prayed the hateful thing would fall over. It did not, instead it wobbled back into a new resting place, and for the first time she could view behind her a set of wooden stairs leading upwards.
From the stop of the stairs emerged a sword coated with fire. She felt the heat of its warmth, blinked a few times in shock, and stopped screaming. Her throat swelled, raw and wracked with pain, when she finally fell quiet. The stillness of the hold, after it had echoed with her cries for so long, was unsettling.
Jon had tied the dark locks of his shoulder length hair back from his face with a leather thong, and his stubble hung heavy on his jaw and around his lips. He wore chain, and beneath it, she could see the outline of the red dragon of their house emblazoned on black leather. In front of him, Longclaw blazed a torch in the darkness, casting away the shadows and throwing the fearful, desperate mien of Xaro into sharp relief. Her husband wore black leather gloves, but somehow she suspected that even had he been barehanded, the heat of the sword would have bothered him not at all.
When Xaro held the dagger to her throat she felt no fear, for how could a mere man hope to prevail in the presence of two dragons?
“I will kill her,” Xaro screamed. “I swear it, I will.”
Daenerys met Jon’s gaze in the mirror, and the brows above the dark sockets within which his eyes glittered raised in relief. He was coated, head to toe, in blood, and she was fairly she could see a few purplish chunks of dead men wedged within the links of the chain mail.
When did Jon learn to set his sword on fire?
“I WILL KILL HER!” Xaro howled as he pressed the knife more closely against Daenerys’ throat … so tightly that the edge bit a line of sizzling pain against her skin.
The fire of the sword went out, whether because Jon willed it or whatever magic created it had run dry, she did not know.
“That’s better,” Xaro said. “Now drop the blade.”
Jon’s eyes drifted downwards to the knife against his love’s throat. “That’s my wife you’re threatening,” he growled, “so if you think I’m going to drop this sword, you’re as stupid as you are fat.”
“You wish to save her?” Xaro wheedled. “Drop the sword and move to the far side of the hold. I will leave, and you may rescue your little queen.”
“Let you go up top so you can maybe lock us in here?” Jon asked with a slow shake of his head as he gazed at the water that was rapidly beginning to pool upon the floor. “I don’t think so.”
“You have no choice!” Xaro yanked on Daenerys’s hair to give Jon a better view of the knife. “I will cut her throat if you come one step closer.”
Jon’s eyes narrowed, and then something happened.
Daenerys was hard-pressed to explain what she saw, but the shadows that lay on the floor, beneath the settee and along the walls of the room where the sunlight did not reach, began to ripple. It was akin to what she had seen the prior night, when Jon had played his cruel jape on her, but these shadows were far darker. They were living things as they reached for Xaro’s legs, she was sure, and they would rip the Qartheen from his feet and pull him into the darkness forever if only they could lay hold of him.
What is happening to Jon?
Xaro must have sensed something, for he looked around wildly, and then he cried in terror when he saw what crept towards his legs. The hand holding the knife against her throat reflexively moved just a few inches away as the shock took him, and that was all she needed.
I did warn you that you might feel the teeth of the dragon.
The red rage fueled her muscles as she extended her head as far as she could and closed her jaw around the fleshiest part of Xaro’s hand, right where the thumb met the wrist. She felt blood spurt in her mouth and her teeth sunk deep enough that when the man, screaming, pulled his arm away in shock, strings of flesh were torn free to hang from her teeth. She spat them away in disgust and did her best to ignore the metallic, warm liquid that had flooded her mouth.
Xaro howled, shook blood from his hand, and moved to lower the knife back to her throat, but by then Jon was there. Longclaw flashed a glittering, silver arc in the increasingly dim light of the hold, and the hand holding the knife traced a crimson streak as it flew away to splash in the water. The Qartheen collapsed to his knees, screaming in pain, as Jon quickly stepped around the pillar and positioned himself in front of his wife.
Jon, I want to see this!
Jon hesitated before moving forward to deliver a killing stroke. “Are you alright?” he asked her.
“Worry about me later!” she cried out. “Kill him!”
Xaro seized the opportunity to quickly wrap the stump of his right wrist within his robe and to hold up the left hand in a pleading gesture. “You wish to save your wife, correct?”
Jon took a step forward and raised the sword.
Xaro cringed and tried to scurry backwards, then he fell and began to scramble, on his backside, away from Jon. “You will never find the keys to her chains without me!”
“Jon, wait!” she screamed. “We need the keys.”
The water in the hold was rapidly rising, and soon, she knew, it would start to lap over the steel plate on which she knelt. She wasn’t sure if it was her imagination, but the ship seemed to feel as if, with every wave, it was listing more and more.
“Yes, without those keys, she will drown here!” Xaro wheedled as he pressed his back against the side of the hold. “I have hidden them very well … this ship could sink a dozen times over before you will find them. I will take you to the keys, and I will throw them to you as I jump over the side.”
Jon never taking his eyes off Xaro, swiveled his head slightly so Daenerys could hear. “We don’t need the keys,” he announced in a cold, dead voice.
Xaro opened his mouth to scream a protest, but the words never left his lips. Longclaw glittered a wide arc across the man’s lower body, and Daenerys smiled in grim satisfaction when she saw that the Valyrian steel had sliced across the top of the man’s thighs to cut deeply into his groin.
The screams that left Xaro’s mouth were high-pitched and warbling as he reached down to cradle in desperate horror the manhood that had been severed from his crotch. Daenerys was fairly certain that his gibbering wails were, in fact, the sweetest sound she had ever heard.
It turned out to not be very long at all before I watched you die screaming, Xaro.
Jon let the man … though, in fact, he was a man no longer … scream for a few seconds, then in deference to the flames beginning to blanket the hatch above and the water seeping below, he stepped forward and made an end of it.
Daenerys stared in grim satisfaction at the twitching, bloody pieces that had once been
Xaro Xhoan Daxos.
Jon must already have the keys.
“Unlock me!” She tried to keep the desperation out of her voice as she twisted, for seemingly the ten thousandth time, against the chains. So close to freedom, the restraints chafed more than ever.
“I don’t have the keys,” Jon said as he knelt in front of her and held her close.
Her eyes opened wide in shock as she stared at the water filling the hold. The ship was definitely listing, she decided, and with each wave it struggled more and more to bob upright again.
“WHAT?!” she yelled.
“Are you sure you’re okay,” Jon said as he leaned in to kiss her. She turned her head away as panic at Jon’s idiocy began to set in.
When he leaned back in surprise, she turned back to him. “We needed those keys, Jon,” she rattled the chains as if to remind him of the issue they faced.
Where is Doreah? She said she would grab the keys … of course, why should I have
trusted anything she said …
“Is that Valyrian steel?” he asked in befuddlement as he ran his hands along the pillar she was bound to.
“WHO CARES!” she roared at him.
“What are you wearing?” he said in a bemused, confused tone as he fingered the fabric of
Jon stood and held Longclaw aloft. “You’ll be fine,” he said reassuringly. “I saw the locks
securing the chains, and this,” he pointed at the sword, “will cleave right through them.”
She gaped at him and wiggled her limbs nervously at the wondered of how close to her skin
the locks had been placed. The ones securing her wrists, she was sure, couldn’t lie more than an inch from her flesh.
“Jon,” she said, and her voice was thick with quiet worry, “I need my hands. You like my
hands, don’t you?”
Jon knelt again and kissed her, and this time she let her lips meet his. His warm lips, and the love she could feel in them, were heavenly after the nightmare she’d endured. She longed to hold him, to get off her aching and pain-wracked knees, but first her husband would have to strike true.
“My love … Dany …,” Jon soothed her, “I have spent my entire life learning how to put the edge of this,” he pointed again at the blade, “exactly where I want, and if I hadn’t gotten pretty good at it, I’d be dead a hundred times over by now.”
She took a deep breath and nodded.
“Do it,” she said.
The water was lapping at her bare legs, and she began to shiver from the cold of it.
Jon stepped behind her, and she wished that he would turn the mirror away so she couldn’t watch. She stared, mesmerized in terror, as he took a deep breath, gripped the hilt tightly with both hands, and raised the sword.
He paused, then darted around and knelt in front of her yet again.
“Dany,” he murmured softly. “I can do this, but not if you move.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “Can you stay very still for me?”
He didn’t seem to believe her. Jon looked around the cabin, for what, she did not know, then he looked up and smiled when he saw the flames. He circled behind her, crouched, and pointed up.
“Do you see that fire?” he asked.
She nodded again.
“I want you to stare at that fire, don’t you dare look away, and try to relax.”
You have to be kidding me.
“Jon, really?” she asked.
“Just try it,” he whispered in her ear. “And pull your ankles and wrists as far apart as they will go.”
The nearness of him, and the feel of his breath on her neck … it felt so warm … inspired her to attempt his silly suggestion. She craned her head up, watched the flames lick at the cabin hatch, and spread her wrists and ankles as far as the chains would allow. Oddly enough, as the wood crackled and turned black from the yellow-orange flames that were slowly spreading, the sight did indeed seem to take her mind off the cold water that she was kneeling in … and the image in the mirror of her husband raising an massive sword in the air.
The first swing of Longclaw severed the lock securing her left ankle, and as her leg swung free, it was as if the burdens of the Dothraki Sea, the death of her Khal and her child, the screams of Mirri Maz Duur and Viserys, the thirst and the worry, dropped into the water along with the shackle.
Jon didn’t hesitate. With the next swing there came a sharp clang, and her right leg, unrestrained, pivoted away from the pole … and along with it, the memories of Qarth, of betrayal, of guilt, of dark magic trying to imprison her, loosened their shackles from her memories. She sighed in relief as she could, for the first time in many hours, stretch her legs.
The third swing severed from her heart the pain and loss of Astapor and Mereen, the biting sting of Jorah Mormont’s betrayal, the dust and the heat and the slaves and the deaths of everyone in her name, and as the manacle dropped away from her left wrist, it was as if another layer of sorrow stripped from her heart.
The memories of what had happened in the cargo hold of the ship, the fear and panic at hearing Xaro taunt her with her beloved’s death, the perfumed serpentine whispers, sickly-sweet cruelty, and the knowing, twisting hands beneath her dress, were banished from her soul as the fourth swing of the sword freed her right wrist. She reached her hands in front of her, rubbed at the raw skin where the manacles had been locked, and her shoulders and elbows painfully announced their joy at finally being able to move unhindered. She knew, deep within, that the moment she walked up the stairs out of this hold and could see the sky again, that she would leave behind the pain of being chained to this wretched pillar, and that the memories of what had happened here would have no grip on her.
She kept her eyes locked on the fire raging above as Jon raised Longclaw once more. The last lock, she knew, lay between the pole and her neck. Jon’s other swings could have maimed her, but if this blow went astray, the Valyrian steel might bite deep into her neck and end her life.
The flames crackled a red blanket of fire above her head as the sword came down.
The collar fell away from her neck, and with it … at last … the squeezing, crippling bands of guilt for King’s Landing, for all of it, loosened, and then snapped free from around her heart. Any debts of blood she owed, the world had forced her to repay, and she had weathered the cruelty, done so, and would acknowledge them no more.
She reached with trembling hands to feel the smooth skin of her neck that had been constrained for so long, then brushed away Jon’s offer of assistance and rose out of the cold water. Daenerys wanted to rear back her head and roar with triumph as Drogon’s shadow, in the last, tremulous rays of the setting sun, swept over them.
After she had stood, she turned and embraced Jon, and she didn’t care in the slightest that the fabric of the dress was being stained red with the blood that dripped from his armor. Jon dropped Longclaw into the water as he gripped her with both hands and held her close.
“Did they … hurt you?” he asked in a quavering, hesitant voice.
I know what … hurt … you are asking about, my love.
“Truth, always,” she whispered. “And the truth is that no one hurt me.” She hiccupped yet again. “Although they did give me too much to drink.”
Jon sniffed at her breath and frowned when he smelled the wine.
She continued, “I think Xaro was waiting until Qarth to … you know … but you arrived first.”
Her love hugged her close, and his breath was hoarse and wheezing as he gripped her tight. She thought if her warrior husband, he who had fought his way, apparently single-handed, into the bowels of this ship for her, was about to cry.
“I’d kill them all …” he said.
She leaned back and gave him a half-smile. “I think you already have.” An ominous creaking noise was heard as the ship began to settle to one side. As the water rushed across the hold and the lean further intensified, they both looked at each other, and it was Daenerys who spoke first.”Let us leave this place.”
Jon nodded. He picked up Longclaw and she followed him up the stairs. The exit was ringed in black smoke as he kicked the door open, and he held her close as they rushed onto the deck of the ship. Drogon roared in triumph the moment she became visible. The cool ocean breeze was bracing as she breathed deep, and as she gazed upwards at the throttled red of the sky, the last remnants of the wine swirling in her system seemed to burn away. She was just about to discuss with Jon what escape route he had planned for this moment, when she remembered something.
Her hands curled into fists and her back stiffened in anger. Jon watched in surprise as she began stalking about and examining the corpses … and pieces of corpses … scattered about the deck.
“Dany, what are you doing?” he finally asked.
“Looking for someone,” she snarled in reply. Something in her voice must have given him pause, for despite the urgent situation presented by the steadily capsizing ship, he voiced no protest.
She found her former handmaiden relatively quickly, in what she presumed were Xaro’s opulently decorated quarters filled with expensive woods, richly upholstered furniture, and cabinets stuffed with clothes woven from brightly colored fiber.
Doreah’s hands had been roped together, and that rope had then been looped over a hook in the ceiling and pulled tight. The cord had been pulled so tight, in fact, that only the tips of the woman’s bare feet touched the wooden floor of the cabin. Daenerys, who had some practice in checking for such things, stared at the woman’s hands and saw that they had turned an ominous purplish white. Left too long, they would go dead. The handmaiden’s silver-gold dress, the shade of which was so close to Daenerys’s own hair, was torn and ragged. On the floor nearby lay a large metal ring ring bearing several keys. Daenerys presumed they were the keys to her manacles, and she speculated that Doreah must have been caught in the act of grabbing the keys, and whoever had caught her … likely Xaro … had tied her to the hook and then left the keys behind when he fled.